Batteries causing thousands of fires a year

Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said batteries of cheaper products have flooded the market in recent years and were now becoming damaged or reaching their end-of-life, and were being replaced by incompatible alternatives, posing a serious fire risk. Credit: DFES.
Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said batteries of cheaper products have flooded the market in recent years and were now becoming damaged or reaching their end-of-life, and were being replaced by incompatible alternatives, posing a serious fire risk. Credit: DFES.

Lithium-ion batteries are responsible for thousands of fires a year causing extensive damage to waste facilities, trucks and homes across the nation.

Australia produces about 3300 tonnes of lithium-ion battery waste each year, which has caused more than 10,000 fires annually in waste management facilities and trucks alone.

The alarming figures have prompted environment ministers across the country to take urgent action to prevent fires from having devastating consequences on lives and property.

Waste collection contractor, Solo Resource Recovery, is seeing an increase in truck fires caused by lithium batteries. Picture: Supplied
Waste collection contractor, Solo Resource Recovery, is seeing an increase in truck fires caused by lithium batteries. Picture: Supplied

On Friday, an Environment Ministers’ Meeting was held at Taronga Zoo in Sydney with ministers agreeing to work together on reforms to Australia’s product stewardship arrangements for all batteries.

A product stewardship is similar to how container deposit schemes work and acts to minimise the health safety and environmental impacts of a product and its packaging throughout its life cycle.

It helps governments identify the best option to reduce the risk of fires, support the battery recycling sector and deliver the most cost-effective and efficient approach for businesses and consumers.

A key focus for ministers will be creating financial incentives to ensure the safe disposal of all types of batteries, reducing the chances of batteries ending up in bins or landfills.

A fire at a Wantirna South recycling facility has sent smoke billowing over Melbourne's East.
A fire at a Wantirna South recycling facility has sent smoke billowing over Melbourne's East.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek chaired the meeting.

She said government and states are working together to stop lithium batteries ending up in landfill and causing dangerous fires.

NSW Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe said fire and Rescue NSW attended more than 270 lithium-ion battery fires in 2023 alone, but they knew this was just a small fraction of the true number of battery fires.

“When batteries are not stored or disposed of properly, they can threaten lives and cause extensive damage to properties and waste infrastructure,” she said.

SHADOW CAB PRESSER
NSW Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe said fire and Rescue NSW attended more than 270 lithium-ion battery fires in 2023 alone, but they knew this was just a small fraction of the true number of battery fires. Picture: Newswire / Gaye Gerard

“Ministers from around the country have agreed it is time for urgent action to protect our communities. NSW is proud to work with Victoria and QLD on a regulatory approach for batteries, to drive better design and disposal.”

Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said batteries of cheaper products have flooded the market in recent years and were now becoming damaged or reaching their end-of-life.

“These batteries are being replaced by incompatible alternatives, posing a serious fire risk,” he said.

“Batteries that enter thermal runaway and explode can start a fire metres away from where they are being charged, potentially engulfing an entire home in a matter of minutes.”

A fire engulfed a home engulfed caused by an overcharged lithium-ion battery. Picture:DFES.
A fire engulfed a home engulfed caused by an overcharged lithium-ion battery. Picture:DFES.

Authorities across the country have been urging the public to be aware of the risks of lithium-ion batteries as fires are increasing at alarming rates.

In Victoria last year, emergency services responded to at least one lithium-ion battery fire each week.

In WA, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services responded to 70 fires ignited by lithium-ion batteries in the first six months of 2024, compared to 110 for 2023.

Queensland authorities recently recorded 47 residential structure fires, eight non-residential structure fires, and 38 other fires that were caused by lithium-ion batteries.